Chemical Equations (World of Forensic Science)
Chemistry is a part of forensic science. By studying the reactions that occur during various tests, the forensic scientist can receive clues about the nature of the compound under study. Often, knowledge of the nature of the chemical reactions is helpful. This knowledge comes from the chemical equation that describes the reaction.
Chemical equations reveal the chemical species involved in a particular reaction, the charges and weight relationships among them, and how much heat a reaction generates. Equations define the beginning compounds, called reactants, and the ending compounds, called products, and which direction the reaction is going.
It is fairly difficult to take a few chemical compounds and derive chemical equations from them, because many variables need to be determined before the correct equations can be specified. However, to look at a chemical equation and know what it really means is not as difficult.
In general, reactants are placed on the left-hand side of the equation, and the reaction products are shown on the right. The symbol " " indicates the direction in which the reaction proceeds. If the reaction is reversible, the symbol " " should be used to show that the reaction can proceed in both the forward and reverse directions. means that heat is added during the reaction, and not equal implies that heat escapes while produced. Sometimes, is replaced by "light" (to initiate reactions) or "flame" (for combustion reactions.) Instead of showing the symbol D, at the same place we may just indicate the operating temperature or what enzymes and catalysts are needed to speed the reaction.
Each chemical species involved in an equation is represented by chemical formula associated with stoichiometric coefficients (numerical measures showing relationships between reactants and products in a chemical reaction). For instance, a, b, c, and d are the stoichiometric coefficients for A, B, C, and D, respectively.
The chemical equation needs to be balanced, that is, the same number of atoms of each "element" (not compounds) must be shown on the right-hand side as on the left-hand side. If the equation is based on an oxidation-reduction reaction which involves electron transfer, the charges should also be balanced. In other words, the oxidizing agent gains the same number of electrons as are lost by the reducing agent. For this reason, we must know the oxidation numbers for elements and ions in chemical compounds.
Because the stoichiometric coefficients are unique for a given reaction, chemical equations can provide us with more information than we might expect. They tell us whether or not the conversion of specific products from given reactants is feasible. They also tell us that explosive or inflammable products could be formed if the reaction was performed under certain conditions.
SEE ALSO Analytical instrumentation; Inorganic compounds.